By Amanda DelaCruz
I’ve been visiting the One of a Kind Show annually for a few years now. It’s a huge exhibition held twice a year in Toronto – made up of artists, designers and makers - both seasoned and rising stars. It used to take me hours to go through the exhibit, and I would still feel like there wasn’t enough time to see everything properly.
Maybe because I’ve been to too many shows, but lately I feel as if I’ve been seeing the same artists over and over again, rarely with any new work that has deviated far from the last time I saw them. The last two years, at One of a Kind and the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, I was getting bored, and I didn’t feel that urge I used to get to spend a weekend ogling the craftsmanship of handmade goods. So now, I seek out the new exhibitors, always with the hope of seeing something fresh and clever. This year, Hot Pop Factory stuck out to me the most. The young duo, Bi-Ying Miao and Matt Compeau, both went to architecture school, and all their ideas that were “too complex, expensive, impractical or just too wild to construct into buildings” are now being created into 3D printed wearable art. The result is modern, at times minimalist, and definitely one of a kind.
I went to an art university at a time of transition. In my final two years, OCADU heavily invested in digital technology – 3D printers and scanners, milling machines, textile printers, laser cutters and welders. Things that used to take me hours to saw out by hand could be laser cut in a few minutes. Designs that were virtually impossible to carve out because of their intricacy were now easily 3D printed out in layers while I slept. It was amazing. It changed design – it changed the whole process of making. If you had visited OCADU’s annual graduate exhibition every year, you would know the year that we got those machines. The furniture became infused with intricate laser cut designs, jewellery became more elaborate, textile design suddenly involved sensors that could detect heat or sound or movement. Some use it as a tool, some use it as an end product and you’ll find makers on both sides of the fence on it’s value. Those who are more “purist” in nature detest the use of these technologies, claiming it takes the value away from the maker. In a sense it has, now people with relatively little hand skill or expertise can create a product quickly alongside those who laboriously hand make almost all aspects of their work.
The draw to shows such as One of a Kind, is that you are getting a product that is not mass produced in an overseas factory. They are limited edition, they have the hand of the maker in them. Work that is done using 3D technology tends to be limited. There is a certain look to them when the technology is used for an end product – it can be overly minimal, very geometric, and lacking in characterization. It is difficult to create organic and flowing designs, it is hard to create variations. Hot Pop Factory’s genius is that they are using this technology in a way that keeps their work from being considered mass produced. They have ensured that each piece is unique, that each piece has the freedom to grow and change from the last with a program that infuses variances with every printing. At first glance, a row of earrings made up of fused black rings appear to be identical to each other. But Bi-Ying assures me that they’re all unique. Upon closer look, I see that each flexible but sturdy nylon pair intersects at different angles and intervals.
One part that really blew my mind is that they can 3D print wood now. The particles of wood and glue are printed in layers to create solid rectangular pendants with infused ripples and wood grains. Each pendant has a different grain structure and ripples in a different place with a different intensity. Hot Pop Factory has managed to bridge the divide between mass production and the variances inherent in the handmade.